Living Christian Life in the 21st Century

Well, the Blue Jays have a 3 game lead on the Yankees. That’s good news – at least it is for me. If you are a Yankees fan of course it is not at all good news. It is striking how our perspectives and our personal settings affect the way we view things. Whether we recognize it or not, the context in which we live is important and what we do is affected by this setting. As well, we do have a part in creating this context ourselves. This is true of each of us. It is also true of our church.

Sometimes we find ourselves in settings which are threatening to us. Currently our church finds itself in a context, a world that for many seems to be a threat. It is marked by a distance from things spiritual, where church, prayer and faith seem to count for little. This world is sometimes referred to as “secular” and is viewed as hostile to church and to things spiritual. It is a world in which there often seems little place for church or spirituality. But perhaps this is not quite accurate.

A few years ago Timothy Radcliffe, the former general superior of the Dominican Order wrote an article entitled “The Shape of the Church to Come.” The article discussed the manner in which our church has addressed the reality of living in a world that is secular, a world where faith, religion, church and Christian life seem unimportant. For some, this is a threatening world, but not for Radcliffe.

Fr. Radcliffe sees our world not as a threat to Christianity and the church, but the ground in which we work - where we sow the seeds of the Good News. For him, living in a secular society in the 21st century challenges us to see and proclaim the Good News in a new light. He holds that our sharing of the Good News has much to offer to our secular society, not to correct it, but to build upon it. Radcliffe offers advice to us on Christian moral vision and life in the 21st century secular world.

[As church and society] we need a moral vision that neither locks us in a ghetto nor assimilates us to society.... We need a moral vision that engages us as people of the 21st century and leads to our flourishing. Many Catholics understand morality in a way that reflects an Enlightenment (i.e. 18th century) culture of control, obligation and prohibition. To be a Catholic is to accept the rules, starting with the Ten Commandments.... Commandments have always, obviously, had a role in Catholic morality, but with the Enlightenment they became central, rather than being part of our formation as people who seek our happiness in God....

The renewal of virtue ethics, especially in North America, promises a way beyond a voluntaristic morality. It is not so much about acts as about becoming the sort of person who finds happiness in God. By practicing the cardinal virtues of prudence, courage, temperance and justice, we can become pilgrims on the way to holiness. With the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, we are given a foretaste of the end of the journey. A morality founded on virtues [rather than commandments] is about the transformation of our desires rather than their control.

Living in the 21st century world what our church can offer is the moral vision we find in the Beatitudes. (Matt.5:1-12) This is the Good News of God’s reign, the core of Jesus’ message and mission.